Friday, July 18, 2008

Electrical Risks Worse Than Previously Admitted

Back in May, I wrote about the electrical risks posed to American soldiers by the shoddy (sub)contracting work done by Vice-Presidential-Favorite-Son KBR, former subsidiary of Halliburton, noting that the company had been warned of the risk of death as far back as 2004. In spite of the warnings, KBR did nothing to improve conditions and thus cost the lives of several American soldiers.

As was standard practice with most contracts subsidized by the tax payers in Iraq, the work was contracted out to imported, low-wage laborers from the Philippines and elsewhere. The practice, in addition to depriving several soldiers of their lives, avoided employing Iraqis and thus fueled economic unrest and by extension added to the insurgency. That KBR was directly responsible for the deaths of Americans, was warned of the danger for several years, and has not faced any repercussions other than still more contracts is infuriating enough, but now comes word that the extent of the danger was grossly understated.

Shoddy electrical work by private contractors on United States military bases in Iraq is widespread and dangerous, causing more deaths and injuries from fires and shocks than the Pentagon has acknowledged, according to internal Army documents.

During just one six-month period — August 2006 through January 2007 — at least 283 electrical fires destroyed or damaged American military facilities in Iraq, including the military’s largest dining hall in the country, documents obtained by The New York Times show. Two soldiers died in an electrical fire at their base near Tikrit in 2006, the records note, while another was injured while jumping from a burning guard tower in May 2007.

And while the Pentagon has previously reported that 13 Americans have been electrocuted in Iraq, many more have been injured, some seriously, by shocks, according to the documents. A log compiled earlier this year at one building complex in Baghdad disclosed that soldiers complained of receiving electrical shocks in their living quarters on an almost daily basis.

The shoddy work was "the most urgent noncombat safety hazard for soldiers in Iraq, according to an Army survey issued in February 2007." Despite posing the greatest noncombat risk to soldiers, KBR remains at large, so to speak, free to continue not only below-mediocre work but to continue bilking tax payers and harboring its money and personnel in offshore tax havens.

The situation is not one that can be dismissed in "everyone makes mistakes" fashion. Rather, the failure to supply adequate wiring is a systematic problem for KBR, one which stems directly from its habit of hiring poorly-trained, cheap laborers and endemic refusal to respond to warnings about the threats posed by its work. If the US is searching out all those with American blood on their hands, it might start with KBR.


KBR Was Warned About Electrical Danger in 2004, May 6

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